MTL: day 5

img_0818January 15, 2017

It’s Sunday now and I’ve been in Montreal for five days. This weekend has been horrifically cold. Daniel says it hasn’t been. But I’m currently wearing fleece tights underneath my jeans and we’re inside so I think it’s safe to say I’m not in Kansas anymore.

I haven’t left the apartment by myself yet. This is partially because I got sick as soon as I landed, and also because I don’t know where to go. We were on the end of Day Three before I realized I hadn’t seen or spoken to any other humans besides Daniel since I paid my cab driver on Tuesday night. His hours aren’t long (Daniel’s class time, not my cab driver’s working hours. I’m sure he works long days), and if there’s anywhere I need to go I figure the least he can do is escort me when he gets home from school.

Also, turns out, when you don’t have a job in the outside world, the urgency you feel to put on pants every morning really diminishes. The necessity has only arisen a few times so far:

  1. Once to go to a French bistro for dinner with Daniel’s Uncle Joe, who was in town for six hours on business. I was still feeling pretty sick but was also feeling sorry for myself at this point and thought I deserved some authentic steak frites from L’entrecote Saint-Jean;
  2. Once to investigate the grocery store closest to our apartment. I thought we were only buying ingredients for dinner so was in that mindset, but Daniel wanted to do a real stock-up. Without a list or any recipes in my head I was a very ineffective shopper. Daniel got exasperated with me, saying in his serious voice “I thought you’d be better at this.” Obviously I found this hilarious; and
  3. Once to walk Daniel to the metro. This was his idea, which he thought was good because a. I wasn’t showing any interest in leaving the apartment and he thought some fresh -39 degree air would be good for my virus, and b. because I would have to walk back home by myself and it was a tricky way of making me pay attention to my surroundings and learn my own address. Joke’s on him because I found my way back and I’m still here, moving all his stuff around and making him walk me to hot yoga.img_0811
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MTL: day 1

img_0647January 10, 2017

So I live in Quebec now. And it’s the first day of the rest of my life!

Things that I noticed are different from the island so far:

  1. It is flat (obvious);
  2. All of the buildings are short;
  3. The wind took my breath away when I stepped outside of the airport last night.

When I got to Daniel’s last night he had dinner all ready for us, and roses for me, which was very nice. He had prepared his house specialty: roasted chicken, potatoes, and yam, with rosemary. It was delicious. He also cleaned it up (bodes well). Things I can say about his place:

  1. It’s much larger than his first year apartment, but still not bigger than a bread box;
  2. His idea of clean does not include dusting (bless him);
  3. There is a pretty large desk reserved just for me that has a little window above it! As everyone knows, a woman must have money and a room (desk) of her own if she is to write fiction (blog posts).

It was hard to relax last night even though I was completely exhausted because my urge to clean and organize and synthesize all our crap was so strong. It may have also been difficult to relax because I’m in a weird new place where I’m apparently going to be camping out for the next four months (that’s what Daniel said last night: It’s going to be like we’re camping every day! Me: lol, why? Daniel: Because the bed is so small with both of us in it… I’ve never been camping.)

Some more logical reasons he could have given as to why it felt like we were camping:

  1. It was really hot in the apartment… and then cold… and then hot;
  2. His sheets feel kind of nylon-ish, like a sleeping bag;
  3. I knew we’d both be awake by 5:00 am PST.

Neither of us could fall asleep, and for me the reason for this was obviously that it was 8:00 pm where I’m from and that’s typically just about the time when my mom and I are sitting down to eat dinner and take in the evening news (TMZ). It’s important that I adjust to Daniel’s weeknight sleep schedule because he has class in the morning and the rooms in this place aren’t divided by any doors, so I can’t really stay up later than him without keeping him awake.

Anyway, it’s 9:45 am here now and after narrowly avoiding my first kitchen fire (involving a tea bag and the old-fashioned coil burner thingy on the stove), I am pretty confused about what I should be doing but am trying hard to adjust to the leisure mindset by just staying in bed and drinking tea out of my new mug that says “bonjour” and has a fancy wiener dog on it. Besides doing a good job of my actual job with DAL, my goal really is going to be to chill the eff out for this whole semester. It’s just four months! Not even. Nobody ever died from taking a brief hiatus from being a basket-case for 16 weeks. Wish me luck!

Christmas Round-Up 2014

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I thought my generous amount of time off for Christmas would be an excellent opportunity to catch up on all the blog posts I hadn’t gotten around to writing during my first couple weeks of work. I pictured nice play-by-plays of all of the extravagant meals I would have planned, complete with pictures taken by an actual camera, and some of my favourite gluten-free Christmas recipes. What actually happened was that we all got sick, every day just flew by, and I cooked a lot but didn’t take a single photo because I was either up to my elbows in raw turkey carcass and my kitchen was in a state of perpetual disaster, or because I really wanted to relax and enjoy my family and our holidays instead of worrying about taking pictures of sautéed brussels sprouts.

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For the most part, my food turned out great. I did a dry brine on my turkey because I was cooking dinner at my aunt’s, and we didn’t arrive at her house until Christmas Eve. The beauty of the dry brine is that it can be done in as little as 8 hours (as opposed to three days – see Thanksgiving post). I made a simple mixture of kosher salt, pepper, sage, and garlic; gave the bird a nice massage with it, and then put it in the fridge and headed off to church. The unappealing aspect of this method is that general wisdom suggests leaving the turkey in your fridge uncovered in order for the skin to dry out (leading to crispier skin when roasting), meaning you have to clear quite a wide berth in order to keep stray limbs from brushing up on any other food in your fridge (and obviously there is tons because you are cooking a turkey dinner). I don’t know why I have this obsession with getting crispy golden skin on my turkeys when not a single person in my family eats it. In the end I preferred the results of the traditional liquid brine, its flavour edged out the dry brine in terms of both meat and gravy.

I think the best way for me to summarize my holidays, culinary events and other, is to make a list a la Bridget Jones’ Diary. This is a broader picture of what went down from the 19th of December to the 4th of January, in no particular order.

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CHRISTMAS ROUND-UP (stats apply to my immediate family only)

Sisters home from vet school/the coldest place in the world, thus signifying the beginning of Christmas: 1

Oven fires: 1

Family Members Sick: 3 out of 4, plus Grandma

Days added onto vacay because of illness, collectively: 5

Hospital Visits: 3

Shopping done by my father: none

Turkeys fully cooked on first try: 0

Meat thermometers functioning on Christmas day: 0

Bottles of red wine consumed: unknown

Boxes of Purdy’s given/received: 18 and 16, respectively.

Sugar cookies iced with icing made of raw egg whites that I then fed to my elderly grandparents and other extended family members, later learning that the eggs were also a month older than their expiration date: roughly 50

Pounds of butter used over course of holiday: unknown

Watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: twice

Watched Love Actually with my Grandma: once, awkwardly

Tarts consumed (butter and maid-of-honor varieties): approx. 6 dozen

Family Christmas Bingo 2014 winners: Frankincense and Moore (1st), Polar Baras Express/FrostBlights (2nd), and The Cousin Eddies (3rd). Great success.

Short term/permanent grudges formed as result of FCB ‘14: 0

Blind dates: 1

Ferries taken (one-way trips): 10 human fares plus 2 car fares ($260 value)

Flights taken (single flights): 11 (Kiewit incurred costs, in addition to unknown amounts of cash and airmiles expended)

Flights rescheduled to accommodate sick family members: 1

Dog fights: 1

Beautiful, heavy-duty professional All-Clad pans gifted to Alex: 1!!!

As you can see, it was a very good Christmas for the Priers. I hope yours was great too; that you ate with abandon and watched Love Actually sans grandmother. Happy New Year!

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A Couple of Vegetable Soups for Your Winter Enjoyment

DSC_0437These are the soup recipes from my instagram post the other day. Two I made up (anyone can make up a vegetable soup, really), and the one in the picture is from Bon Appetit. I always think to myself, if ever I was competing on Chopped and I got carrots and coconut milk in my basket I would make this soup in a heartbeat and Alex Guarnaschelli would just die over it. Her comment would start off sounding like a criticism and she’d have the facial expression of someone who had just received some incredibly insulting news, but then it would conclude as a massive compliment. Not sure what that part would sound like, but I know she would love it and I would win.

Carrot-Coconut Soup (click link for recipe) 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Shallots

I’m really into butternut squash this year. This turned out quite thick but the flavour was great, and I was able to easily adjust the consistency with a little milk. This is a meal-soup.

  • 1 medium size butternut squash (3-4 lbs)
  • 3-4 large shallots, sliced thinly
  • 4 large apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small pieces
  • chunk of butter, lots of olive oil
  • salt + pepper
  • 1½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • milk
  • sour cream or a piece of brie for garnish (optional)

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel squash, discard seeds, and cut into one inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on a cookie sheet covered in parchment for 45 minutes or until squash is nice and soft.

-When squash is almost cooked, melt butter and olive oil in a heavy stockpot. Cook shallots for a few minutes, until translucent and nicely fragrant.

-Add cooked squash to shallots, seasoning with more salt and pepper, cayenne, cumin, coriander, and ginger. Add apples. Mix.

-Pour chicken broth over squash mixture. Top up with water until everything is covered. Simmer on low heat for 40 minutes.

-Use immersion blender to puree soup (or puree in batches in regular blender). Add more seasoning to taste. Add milk to adjust consistency to your liking. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or put a piece of brie in your bowl and then pour soup over it (people seem to love this).

Daniel’s Favourite Tomato Soup

This is delicious and I always want to eat it. Never get sick of it.

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • olive oil, chunk of butter
  • salt + pepper
  • 1 28oz can tomatoes (the big one)(marzano if you can find them)
  • 1 can coconut cream or, 1-2 cups chicken broth + 1 small carton heavy cream (this is a “choose your own adventure” recipe)
  • squirt of sriracha
  • handful of fresh basil

Saute onions and garlic in oil and butter for around 8 minutes, until translucent and at that just-starting-to-caramelize state. Add tomatoes and broth (or coconut cream), simmer on low for as long as you like (minimum half an hour, but I’ll leave it on the stove for quite a while if I’m doing something else, just to deepen the flavour. Daniel eats it as soon as it resembles soup.) When you are ready to serve, add heavy cream (or don’t, whichever path you chose is just fine) and fresh basil. Season generously with salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Use immersion blender to yield perfect, creamy tomato soup. While you’re cooking, whip up some of Ina Garten’s biscuits using Cup4Cup, or make the ones on the back of the gluten free Bisquick box. Heaven.

Pro Tip: if ever you make one of these recipes and it just does not taste quite right, add another chunk of butter. It really is the secret.

“Salmon Two Ways” Pasta

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I made this last night in celebration of landing my first real grownup job! Fast, easy, and I could eat the whole thing myself.

WORKING GIRL PASTA (realistically serves around 4 adults)

  • 2-3 shallots, sliced thin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • glug of olive oil, small chunk of butter
  • 1 large piece salmon, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 150 grams or so candied smoked salmon nuggets, cut into little pieces
  • 1 500ml carton heavy cream
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 box gluten free Catelli fusilli pasta
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • salt, pepper, chili flakes

-In a heavy frying pan, heat butter and oil. Saute shallots and garlic for a minute or two, then add fresh salmon chunks. Salt and pepper. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, until salmon is not quite cooked through.

-Dump this stuff in a bowl and set aside. Add a bit more oil to your pan if you need it.

-Meanwhile you should get your pasta water to a rolling boil. I love the Catelli gf pasta for its good quinoa-corn-rice blend, but anything else will do.

-Cook peas until thawed and soft. Add all of your heavy cream and smoked salmon. Bring to low simmer, cooking for a least 5 minutes.

-Scrape the sides every once in a while to avoid chunky cream. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes (amount based on personal preference).

-Your pasta should be almost cooked (6-7 min). Add green onions and salmon/shallot mixture back into cream sauce. Strain pasta. Thoroughly toss with salmon and cream. Sauce should not be thick or “saucy,” just light and stuck to the pasta.

-Eat three bowls in less than ten minutes.

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This was my “funemployed” life. #GloryDays

Fried Chicken Confit and Waffles, or The Most Crazy Delicious Thing You’ll Ever Eat in Your Life

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For Daniel’s early birthday meal I cooked Chuck Hughes’ Fried Chicken Confit with Waffles out of his Garde Manger book (named after his restaurant in Montreal that I can’t WAIT to go to… in my dreams, where I go to celebrity restaurants and eat deep-fried lobster). Chicken and waffles is one of Daniel’s favourite dishes but one that I have never been able to eat with him because it consists of: fried chicken, waffles, and gravy. Gluten city.

I thought it might be complicated because I’ve never confited anything before. Confitted? Confat? Not sure. But it sounded fancy. The hardest thing turned out to be finding duck fat in Nanaimo to cook with. I called the only butcher I know on the morning before dinner and asked if they carried it. He said yup, it came in frozen blocks, and it was cheap. Perfect. Drove to butcher, no duck fat. No one would cop to promising the crazy lady her duck fat. Finally a guy came out from the back of the store and said, “It was me, and I thought you said BACK fat! Hahahaha!”

After that it was quite easy. You just need to give yourself lots of time.

First you do a dry-brine thing for around 4 hours. Chill.

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Then you rinse your chicken off, dump out your brine, and replace that brine with melted duck fat. A whooole lotta duck fat. Cook for 3-4 hours on low heat, and you’ll get this:

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Take your chicken out of the fat using tongs and throw it on some paper towel, strain your fat so you can freeze it and confit something else some other time.

After that it’s pretty standard: flour-egg-flour the chicken, fry it in my super McDonalds deep-fryer (out on the deck, in case it expodes)(not sure why I think that could happen, that’s my mom for you). Made the gravy: ridiculous ratio of butter, reduced white wine, and reduced chicken broth. For the waffles, I didn’t use Chuck’s recipe exactly because I didn’t want them to have that limp or chewy texture (a risk you can sometimes run by substituting flours straight across when making pancakes or waffles). Instead I used the gluten-free Bisquick and followed their waffle recipe, replacing the oil with melted butter and adding ¼ cup sour cream (as per Chuck). They came out light and crispy. Dinner was served.

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Any other time I’ve ever said “wow, that’s really good,” I didn’t know what I was talking about. This was so good. This makes me doubt all the other things I go through my life thinking are really-really-good, and wonder, what else am I missing here? I’m gonna be confitting my cereal.

Forget the caramelized bacon. Forget the buttermilk pecan fudge. This is the final word in flavour (except for don’t forget those things completely because they’re also delicious and variety is the spice of life).

My First Thanksgiving: A Novella

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I come from a large family of adventurous eaters. For the great majority of us, excluding myself, there is no such thing as too spicy or too aged. I’m generally the only one to abide by the old “When in Rome” mentality of ordering fish and chips at the fish and chips joint- my mom will have the moussaka, thanks.

Except for holidays. On holidays our preferences run more toward the fiercely traditional, almost militant, idea of what turkey dinner should look like. Particularly if certain uncles are invited. There are no variations, no substitutions. For it to be truly pure, my grandmother, Kay, must prepare the bulk of it (or at least all of the things that aren’t just boiled vegetables. And they can only be boiled.)

Over the last couple of years my diet has presented a number of challenges to our holiday table that have really rocked the family to its core (I’m talking to you  Uncle G). The contents of the stuffing. The thickening of the gravy. The flake of the pumpkin pie crust. Changing them? What are we all doing here? What is the meaning of life? At first we were making all separate stuff just for me, to preserve the integrity of the Official Turkey Dinner for the sake of the rest of the family. But it was just too much work, so we had to switch everyone over. Sacred side dishes were now being altered on my behalf; suddenly no one was safe from my soggy stuffing.

But then my mom and I figured it out and it’s awesome again and nobody knows the difference.

I am a big fan of trying new recipes and cooking techniques. Especially when I’m entertaining. Unknown result + guests? So fun! I’m pretty sure Kay has actual nightmares about this. But seeing as I was in charge of Thanksgiving this year and was feeling emboldened by my Uncle Gord’s absence, and the fact there were only going to be 13 victims at the table, I thought I would switch it up and try some all-new recipes to see if maybe there were some traditional items that could be tweaked.

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My first ambition was to brine my turkey. This initial compromise of the main event itself, a bird I christened Ted Baker (after the host of my favourite food network show, Chopped) was immediately met with resistance from the team. At least three times, my dad begged “don’t do itttttttt,” when I mentioned my big plans. I finally asked him why and he said “… because my mom never did.” Huh. Leah took a more aggressive “NO, Al. NO.” but couldn’t give even a reason as legit as my father’s. I was partially stalled by this opposition, and by the fact that the brine required 72 hours soaking time (my personal hesitation was more to do with poisoning the whole family than breaking with tradition). I knew my grandma would just drop dead if she knew. She has poultry paranoia. But I was more curious than scared, and soon Ted was well on his way to brine-dom.

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The The Menu/Verdict:

Ted himself turned out very tasy. I didn’t notice a very different flavour in the meat from having soaked it with the vegetables/herb/seasoning mixture, but other people said they did. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t bother with the 3-day brine again, but I will do a dry brine next time or just a 24-hr one. What did make it worth it was that I got incredible gravy out of that thing. I was a little worried when Ted came out of the oven and it didn’t look like I was gonna have a ton of dark drippings to work with, but it was seriously flavourful. So I’d brine again just for that.

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Showtime!!! Unfortunately somewhere along the way I lost a bit of Ted’s skin.

DSC_1424Cornbread Stuffing with Bacon, Onions, and Apple (Food52)

The reason I chose it over the 4,350 other cornbread recipes on the internet is because the recipe for the actual cornbread didn’t include flour, so I knew that my final product would be the same as Food52’s. I was hesitant to rely on my old cornbread recipes because then I would need to sub out regular flours for gf and I didn’t want my little cornbread croutons disintegrating into mush once I combined them with all the other ingredients. It was pretty well received but if I made it again I would reduce the bacon and increase the apple. I was going for that Kraft Stove Top vibe and it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I missed my gran’s Irish potato/bread stuffing that we usually have so I whipped some up the next day to supplement our leftovers (potato stuffing is great if you’re a celiac, and if you’re not. But especially for celiacs. I wonder if it was invented because so many Irish people are celiac and they can’t have Stove Top? Not sure why I’m still so obsessed with boxed stuffing?)

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Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles (Bon Appetit)

I was excited by the prospect of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon on our Thanksgiving table, so naturally I took it too far and decided to work it into another recipe in addition to the stuffing. These dirtballs (as my family calls them) were a big hit. I sautéed instead of the prescribed grilling, because I just had too many irons in the fire to be running outside tending the barbecue. The mushrooms were beautiful and an exotic addition to the meal. We never have mushrooms at Thanksgiving! Wild.

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Cranberry-Orange Relish with Mint (Bon Appetit)

Those mavericks at Bon Appetit were just a little off with this one. Thankfully I made our traditional cranberry sauce to accompany the experimental one (I’m brave, but not brave enough to face the mob without the classic cranberry sauce that is a nonnegotiable requirement of any turkey dinner at my house.) I thought the relish got luke-warm to positive reviews (I always know when people refer to my cooking as “interesting” or “different” that I’ve missed), but next time I would rather put my energy towards elevating other basic dishes and stick with the recipe on the back of the bag for this one.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan

Because this Thanksgiving was as much about Leah being home for the weekend as it was the holiday, I thought I’d do some fancy cauliflower in her honor. I broke down two heads and spread them out on a cookie sheet to roast away with some sliced onion, garlic cloves, olive oil, S&P, and parmesan cheese. Another unorthodox thanksgiving vegetable! She approved.

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Old Standards

Rounding out the meal we had “Sweet Potato Supreme” (mashed sweet potatoes and yams with a topping of maple syrup, brown sugar, and toasted pecans), carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, and black olives (don’t know why these need to be on the table… they just do).

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DSC_1494Dessert: Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

This was delicious, however at this point we were all dying from such a heavy dinner. The filling was super rich and syrupy and sweet. I had to convert the crust into gf using my trusty Cup4Cup flour, and I thought it could have been a bit more pliable. The dough was very dry when I was rolling it out and I should have known to add more liquid, but I went along with it anyway and it still turned out okay. I would totally do this again and eat less dinner so I could fit more pie.

DSC_1445DSC_1510Bonus Desserts

Kay brought her classic pumpkin pie, which I probably still prefer to, well, pretty much any other food in the world. I also made one batch of buttermilk pecan fudge, which I’ve made several times and is indescribably good. Have you tried crack? It’s crack.

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Success! Overall it was a success. Nobody died from trying new stuffing, or from eating a three-day-thawed turkey, for that matter. I just got my Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit and am already planning out my Christmas menu (stay tuned for a spatchcocked bird).

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Note: This was so much work! I think about my gran doing it single-handedly with 30+ people coming over… a huge undertaking. As we got closer to sitting down to eat, I had more and more things on the go that needed to be cooked and garnished and steamed and rested and carved. It was a bit of a circus. For this reason, I enlisted the help of Jaime and Daniel to take all photos of the meal and its prep for the blog. I hope you enjoyed their artistic, at times downright avant-garde eye for food photography.

Some of my favourites that didn’t quite make the storyline:

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